Minas Gerais no longer able to hide Covid-19 crisis

. Jun 15, 2020
Minas Gerais Brazil's second-richest state no longer able to hide Covid-19 crisis Despite low official Covid-19 numbers, residents of Minas Gerais state are waking up to the extent of the crisis. Photo: Ronaldo Almeida/Shutterstock

There is a French urban legend according to which authorities in 1986 told the general public that the radioactive cloud created by the Chernobyl disaster had stopped dead at the French border, thus posing no risks for the country. While that story has long been debunked, it is being recreated today during the coronavirus pandemic by Romeu Zema, the governor of Minas Gerais, Brazil’s second-most populated and second-richest state. Minas Gerais borders São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the states with the highest absolute numbers of Covid-19 infections and deaths in the country. And yet, if we take the Zema administration’s word at face value, it is as if the virus has simply refused to cross state lines.

</p> <p>According to data from the Health Ministry, Minas Gerais has confirmed only 21,381 cases and 475 deaths related to the pandemic, which — for a state with more inhabitants than Romania — is remarkable. Officially, Mr. Zema&#8217;s state has one of the lowest rates of infections and deaths per 1 million people. But, as we at <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> have shown, the state&#8217;s low numbers are more linked to a <a href="">gross lack of testing</a>. Even with a backlog of cases exceeding the 100,000 mark, the crisis in Minas Gerais has become impossible to hide.</p> <p>Despite the low number of confirmed cases in the state, deaths by acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS, which can be caused by Covid-19) have <a href="">jumped 884 percent</a> when compared to the average of previous years, according to data platform Coronavirus-MG. That runs in line with analysis <a href="">first revealed by <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong></a> showing that state capitals with low tallies of coronavirus casualties have seen a surge of deaths related to undetermined respiratory syndromes.&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, 3.3 million people in 154 municipalities across the state are suffering from a lack of intensive care beds. Considering the micro-regions where ICU occupancy rate approaches the 90-percent mark, the total people left without care could reach over 10 million.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/2854568" data-url=""><script src=""></script></div> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/2854566" data-url=""><script src=""></script></div> <h2>Minas Gerais finally backpedaling?</h2> <p>In a video-conference hosted by brokerage firm XP on April 10, Governor Romeu Zema harshly criticized mayors&#8217; decisions to shut down stores and impose strict isolation guidelines. A business mogul who owns multiple gas stations, appliance stores, and car dealerships, Mr. Zema went as far as saying it was necessary for the coronavirus to &#8220;travel a little.&#8221; At the time, when the state had only 750 confirmed cases and 17 deaths, the governor defended the slow contamination of his constituents in order to obtain herd immunity.</p> <p>Now, however, Mr. Zema&#8217;s demeanor seems to have switched. On Friday, he claimed to be &#8220;worried&#8221; about a coronavirus surge in the past ten days —&nbsp;even ordering the central region of the state to regress to a stricter isolation status. The decision reversed authorizations for establishments such as beauty parlors, stationery stores, or clothes shops to operate.</p> <p>&#8220;I am apprehensive about this spike in the curve. However, experts had already predicted that, as we approach the expected &#8216;peak&#8217; of the curve,&#8221; he said. &#8220;But it&#8217;s not good. The number of cases is increasing every day and that starts to create some discomfort.&#8221;

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Renato Alves

Renato Alves is a Brazilian journalist who has worked for Correio Braziliense and Crusoé.

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